I cannot say for certain if William Shakespeare ever suffered
from depression, but I am certain he understood it and he
instilled some of his characters with the disease.
In the opening scene from The Merchant of Venice, the merchant
Antonio confides to some friends:
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
Most of us who suffer from depression do not always know
why we do or where it comes. What we do know is that it
wearies us; we feel tired from it and it can also be tiresome
to the ones closest to us.
That I have much ado to know
That I have much ado to know
myself is true to those who know that the way we act and
feel sometimes is not our true selves.
Antonio’s friends try to diagnose his problem, but the merchant
denies he is sad because of business or love.
Salarino simply sums up Antonio’s problem:
Then let us say you are sad,
Because you are not merry
In Scene II Portia reflects Antonio’s mood.
By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of
this great world.
Nerissa tells Portia she has no right to be sad since her
good fortune outweighs any misery. I am sure this is the
advice some people give their friends suffering from
depression. But for those suffering from depression it is
not simply a matter of counting our blessings when all
we can do is focus on our problems.
In Hamlet, the melancholy Dane confides in his two school friends:
I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises;
Depression is of course the opposite of mirth or happiness,
and when we are depressed we are prone not to take care
of ourselves because we simply do not care about our wellbeing.
Hamlet sees things in a negative light.
... this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
This negative attitude naturally leads Hamlet to
To be, or not to be…
In Macbeth the new king’s depression is brought on
by his sinful acts. Macbeth echoes the sentiments
the depressed often feel:
...I am sick at heart...
...I have lived long enough…
At one point Macbeth asks a doctor if he cannot
cure this disease.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
The doctor replies:
Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.
This is only partially correct. The oness for our depression is
mainly on us. The Catch 22 is that the depressed person may
not have the wherewithal to minister themselves.
When Macbeth says:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
-- it signifies that the depressed mind sees life as meaningless
or as a cruel joke.
In Act 3, scene 4, Macbeth reflects on the uselessness
of trying to recover from his state:
… I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er:
Many often feel that is just as easy (or difficult) to stay in our
depression than to try to get out of it, and so some do not try.
World Mental Health Day is October 10. Here is a link for
World Health Organization.
In Canada Mental Health Awareness Week is October 6-12
In Canada, Mental Health Week is May 6-12. Here is the link
to the Canadian Mental Health Assoication.
In the United States, Mental Health Month has been held in
May since 1949. This is the link for Mental Health America